The Battle of Germantown
Written by Peter Fitzgerald
American Wars - War of independence
Germantown is a neighbourhood of Philadelphia and in the American Revolutionary War, known as the American War of Independence a great battle between the United States and the British occurred.
The Battle of Germantown occurred on the 4th of October in the year 1777, it was a battle that had short lived consequences but was still very important in the war itself.
Prior to the Battle of Germantown
The British had a strong grasp on Philadelphia after the American forces suffered heavy defeats in the Battle of Brandywine and the Battle of Paoli. This irked the Americans as at this time Philadelphia was seen as the capital of the newly formed United States of America.
The British actually took control of Philadelphia on September 26th 1777 with General Charles Cornwallis in charge. The British had 3,462 defending the city proper and 9,728 in Germantown, these were a mix of British and Hessian soldiers.
The Americans saw this as good fortune as the British forces were split in two so Major General George Washington saw to attack the British at Germantown before winter set in.
The Battle of Germantown
The British and Hessian troops had set up camp on the high ground of Germantown with two small brigades camped in the market square for defence.
The Americans set out on a march to Germantown on the 3rd October; this march was to be 16 miles and took place over the darkness of night. The idea was to arrive in the early hours as daylight occurred and go straight into battle, giving the element of surprise.
Unfortunately this plan failed in so much as the darkness meant the American columns could not keep in touch with one another so by daybreak only one American column of militia men had reached the objective with all other American forces falling behind.
The militia column moved cannon into position and fired at the Hessian troops on the British flank in camp. These militia troops then fell back when the three remaining columns of American troops arrived.
The Americans moved for a three pronged attack with each of the three columns using different roads into Germantown to attack the British. The first picket line of the British fired volleys at the Americans and advanced on them not knowing it was the full American force. This line got cut off from the rest of the British force but rather than capitulating they chose a strongly built stone house and made it their fort. The Americans attacked time and again but this small band of men repelled every attack.
The issue of this small group of British soldiers became too much and the American commanders called a council of war on how to resolve the problem. The Americans finally decided to storm the building, this involved heavy cannon fire which did nothing to the strong and thick stone wall, after the cannon fire then American infantry tried to storm the building but were shot down as they ran. Those that did make it to the building were bayoneted to death.
One of the other columns coming up another road root came up to another British picket line of troops and after some heavy gun fire the British troops withdrew. The only problem was that there was heavy fog in the area combined with the smoke of guns so half the American force took the wrong road and marched in the wrong direction. To compound this problem further they came face to face with another American column and being in thick fog they each thought they were facing the enemy and opened fire on each other causing heavy casualties.
The final column coming from the third direction came to the flank of the British troops made up of British soldiers and American Loyalists, fierce battle commenced but the strength of the British was too powerful and the American column retreated back.
The Americans still felt victory was in their grasp so regrouped and attacked the British breaking the line and causing casualties as well as gaining some prisoners. This was until two British brigades came and made a charge at the Americans cutting them off and surrounding them, this was brutal and caused those that lived to surrender.
The victory was a British one and meant that for the winter at least the British had control of Philadelphia. The Americans had a force of 11,000 and had 152 killed, 521 wounded and 438 captured. The British had a smaller force of just over 9,000 men of which 71 were killed, 448 wounded and 14 missing in action.